by: Deborah Horne Updated:SEATTLE —
A developer planning a huge convention/hotel center in downtown Seattle could face similar scrutiny as Whole Foods in West Seattle. The Hedreen Group is asking the city for permission to access the alleyway on the property at 9th and Stewart so it can build a 1650-room hotel complex on the entire block. But Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn is putting businesses on notice that to do business in the city, they will have to offer higher-wage jobs.
The hotel complex is being touted as the largest north of San Francisco. Tom Norwalk, president and CEO of VisitSeattle, estimates the city lost $1.6 billion over the last five years in convention business because of a lack of hotel space in the downtown core. Moreover, he said, hotel occupancy in Seattle in the month of June was a record 93 percent. The proposed complex, said Norwalk, "would be the best news we could get from the city. It creates tons of jobs, creates an economic impact that really far surpasses what we're able to do currently." In documents filed with the city of Seattle, the Hedreen Group says the project will generate about $11 million in taxes and provide 1,000 jobs. But many of the jobs provide low wages.
Last week, Seattle's mayor said he plans to oppose granting access to the public alleyway to a Whole Foods in West Seattle because its jobs don't pay workers enough. Companies that ask for a public benefit, he said, must benefit the public. KIRO-7 tried to get a comment on camera Monday. Instead, McGinn's office issued a statement. "We will look at the same factors that we looked at in assessing the alley vacation for Whole Foods. We have not yet made any recommendation on the Hedreen hotel alley vacation."
For its part, Hedreen said in creating the hotel complex, it will make major improvements to a long-neglected corner, build low-income housing, provide open space, and even participate in the city's bike share program. All the more reason, said Kate Joncas, president of the Downtown Seattle Association, to give the project the green light. "We've been waiting a long time for this project," she said. Proponents will likely have to wait awhile longer.
Several city agencies must weigh in before the Seattle City Council makes a final decision, expected early next year.